There is an idea in anthropology and social psychology which suggests that large religions with more punitive gods arose as communities grew beyond groups of 50-100 individuals. This fostered cooperation between people as it became impossible to know everyone in the community personally. Trust is created when a stranger can be recognized as belonging to the same religious group. However, this can have negative consequences for anyone outside of the group. Such individuals are often met with distrust and malice.
Growing up as an outsider of the dominant cultural or social group can be difficult and confusing for a child. It can be alienating and damaging when members of that dominant culture, whether out of ignorance or spite, behave in ways that exclude or endanger that child because of their outsider status. I grew up in a conservative, heavily religious neighborhood in Sandy, UT, in a family that was largely agnostic/atheist. Throughout my youth, I was excluded from the Boy Scouts, was told by other children’s parents that their kids couldn’t play with me because I was “a bad influence,” and I have experienced two separate occasions in which people intentionally tried to hit me with their cars while I was walking. I have been able to move past these experiences by viewing those involved acting out of fear or ignorance, as it is behavior that is consistent with the aforementioned anthropological ideas. What continues to bother me are comments suggesting that I cannot understand sacredness or reverence because I do not believe in a God. The idea that I cannot experience something so fundamentally human as reverence suggests that I am somehow sub-human. Because I have received this comment frequently, I feel the need to respond. My response is the (un)Holy Relics series.
Some of the objects in the (un)Holy Relics series are personally significant; some are not. Which objects are personally significant is irrelevant. What is important is that the viewer finds connections between the objects and their own sense of sacredness. I hope that this personal reflection might also allow us to examine the judgments we make about people outside of our own group, and to seek connection and understanding, rather than division.
Chauncey Secrist is a Utah-based artist, born in Salt Lake City in 1980, who works in a variety of media including oil, acrylic, watercolor, ink, collage, and assemblage. His work has been exhibited in many galleries in Utah, including the Springville Museum of Fine Art, Finch Lane Gallery, Eccles Art Center, Alpine Art, and Art Access; as well as in THAT Gallery in Hong Kong, and the APW Gallery in New York. He has won awards from the Springville Museum and the Eccles Art Center, judged art competitions at the Springville Museum of Fine Art and with the city of South Jordan and has recently begun curating exhibitions locally. Chauncey lives in Salt Lake City, where he works in a medical laboratory and is studying anthropology and archaeology.